‘Reality Lab’ is proud to be ‘Made in Japan’

by Jae Lee

It has been nearly 10 years since Issey Miyake released a new line of clothing, the last being “me Issey Miyake” — scrunched-up one-size “Cauliflower” T-shirts that stretch to fit any wearer. So it’s no surprise that the launch of 132 5., a collection of garments based on origami folds, has caused quite a buzz within the fashion community. But Reality Lab Project Team, the creative research and development group behind 132 5. headed by the designer himself, has a far wider agenda as far as design in Japan is concerned. “Reality Lab” at 21_21 Sight showcases not only the cleverly constructed 132 5. garments, but also other innovations that Miyake deems significant to Japan’s reputation in the world of design — a reputation that the exhibition suggests could, in the future, hang on the nation’s ability to apply technological advances and creativity to helping reduce environmental damage.

“Japan produces no natural resources we can purely rely on for living” says Sakuraba, a member of the Reality Lab Project Team, all of whom prefer to give only their surnames to play down their individual roles in the project. It is this lack of resources that provided some motivation behind the show, which focuses on recycling and reducing environmental waste; education; and Japanese design.

Ironically, Miyake is probably best-known for his Pleats Please line of garments that helped bring about a high-fashion revival of polyester, a synthetic fabric that is perhaps not something normally associated with being ecofriendly.

But polyester has come a long way, and thanks to modern technology, it can be made into a high-quality material, processed with less energy than some other fabrics and also be recycled.

The 132 5. collection of dresses, tops and skirts are constructed from recycled polyester from Teijin Fibers Limited, one of the Japanese corporations who were invited to display their work at “Reality Lab.” Teijin’s “Eco Circle” installation demonstrates how old polyester clothing can be processed into fine salt-grain-like crystals, which are then melted into rolls of fine thread to be woven into fabric.

As the main focus of “Reality Lab,” 132 5. illustrates how Japan can revive what they see as a declining design industry, while remaining true to what the nation is already famous for. It uses recycled material born from technological advances of an innovative Japanese manufacturer; produces Japanese designs that utilize unique properties of the material by heat-pressing permanent folds; and it draws inspiration from a traditional Japanese craft.

For Miyake’s R&D team, “Reality Lab’s” objective is clearly a labor of love: “There is a strong sense of team work. Every Thursday there is a team meeting with all the members (there are usually around nine or 10), including Miyake; and everyone, even myself puts an idea on the table,” says Takahashi, 25, the youngest member of the team. “The word ‘reality’ is in our team name,” he continues, “and it is about bringing ideas into reality.”

The 132 5. pieces all fold into neat geometric shapes that expand into unusual, avant-garde but very wearable garments. The team is also displaying a number of paper lamps that, like the garments, can be folded flat.

“The ‘1’ means a layer, like a piece of paper, ‘3’ refers to the 3-D nature of the garments, which were designed using computer scientist Jun Mitani’s 3-d software; and the ‘2’ refers to the 2-D flat, folded form,” says Takahashi, explaining the name of the line. “There is also a space between the ‘2’ and ‘5,’ which indicates the time put into the production process. The ‘5’ is where it becomes more poetic, ‘5’ symbolizes the dress being worn by someone who goes out to a whole new world to encounter unpredictable aspects of our lives.”

Other Japan-specific ideas brought to reality in the exhibition include an installation demonstrating Mitani’s cutting-edge software; Hiroshi Iwasaki’s still-life photography of ABI Co., Limited’s CAS (Cells Alive System) frozen foods, which preserves food with minimum cell damage; and Katsuma Asaba, Takafumi Matsui and Kaoru Suzuki’s “Where do we come from, and where are we going?” series of installations that symbolize the universe and encourage viewers to see themselves in relation to the big picture. Even the exhibition flyer has been created using a Japanese innovation. Made of recycled paper, the leaflets are printed by Toray Industries Inc., which uses soy ink in a process that, unlike many other printing processes, uses no water.

There are a couple of non-Japanese creators included in “Reality Lab” — French film director Pascal Roulin’s film “Simply Unfolded” and an installation from Israeli designer Arik Levy, who has worked with Miyake before.

But, as Takahashi says ,”We do work with foreign designers and artists, but at the moment our goal is to once again prove what the label ‘Made in Japan’ is capable of. We want to develop original Japanese products within Japan.”

“Reality Lab” at 21_21 Design Sight runs till Dec. 26; admission ¥1,000; open 11 a.m.-8 p.m., closed Tue. For more information, visit www.2121designsight.jp